June 4, 2013

India Combats Energy Poverty Through Renewable Sources

India’s energy program is extremely interesting, given the sheer size of its electrical grid and the dire necessity to develop additional forms of electric generation.  Overall, it is the fourth-largest energy consumer in the world behind the US, China and Russia.  Yet over 300 million citizens in India function without electricity and over 800 million remain with limited electrical access.  What’s worse is 300,000-400,000 deaths occur each year from energy poverty, as burning traditional things like wood and animal waste indoors for cooking purposes lead to respiratory ailments that would be mitigated with better electrical services

The July 2012 blackout throughout northern India – affecting over 620 million people over the course of two days – was a considerable catalyst to spur motivation.  Following the outages, secretary general of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry Rajiv Kumar addressed the importance of grid modernization, “One of the major reasons for the collapse of the power grid is the major gap between demand and supply.  There is an urgent need to reform the power sector and bring about infrastructural improvements to meet the new challenges of the growing economy.”

Oddly enough, some of the states affected by the blackouts in 2012 are also some of the most conducive for solar energy generation.  The solar resource map above provided by Wikipedia shows the potential for great solar development along the northwestern and central regions of India.

National Solar Mission Underway

Many of the country’s natural resources are beginning to be utilized to address energy poverty, and the country is addressing concerns through projects designed to improve electric infrastructure in a comprehensive, but prompt way.  For example, the Jawaharial Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM) is widely considered to be the main solar operative for the country.  Started in 2010, the project’s eventual goal is to install 20 gigawatts (1 gigawatt = 1,000 megawatts) worth of solar power into India by 2022.  The project is broken down into three separate phases.  Phase I was originally slated to be completed by the end of 2013 and the Indian government has successfully followed through – the intended 500 megawatts (MW) have already been successfully allocated.

On May 9th, the Indian Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE) also distributed a draft proposal for Phase II of the initiative.  While the final draft has not been released yet, the early indications are that an additional 750 megawatts of solar energy will be installed between now and the end of 2017.

JNNSM Private Sector Gains

Some companies have already leapt at the potential to contribute to Phase II, including solar module manufacturer Lanco Solar Private Ltd.  The prospect of providing solar panels for the project proved to be too enticing for Lanco, as it expects to raise $300 million in revenue through Phase II.  Satyendra Kumar, Chief Technology Officer for Lanco Solar, added, “In the second phase of the Jawaharial Nehru National Solar Mission indigenous manufacturing should be encouraged…we want implementation as early as possible and on a consistent basis.”  Plans are to begin production of panels by mid-2014.

Tata Power, the country’s largest integrated power utility, has not directly been tied to Phase II of the JNNSM plans, but it is diligently working to invest in both solar and wind energy development on its own accord.  This week Tata announced ambitious plans to add 30-50 MW of solar power and 150-200 MW of wind energy everyyear moving forward.  The effort is part of a long-term sustainability initiative, which will add to the 873 MW in renewables already installed from the utility in India.

Within Phase II, the MNRE will also create a national offshore wind energy policy to begin research this year, as it was determined the cost effectiveness of pursuing offshore wind was comparable to conventional fossil fuel generation.

Despite the various efforts mentioned, India remains a long way away from achieving its sustainability goals.  But the effort certainly appears to be present, and prosperity appears to be just over the horizon for many people in India

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